Having just been off regular duty for nigh on a month to second-shoot a wedding for Kirsten Mavric in South Africa, this post is going to be surprisingly lacking in zebras, or even meercats I’m afraid. Instead, it’s one of my very occasional ramblings on photography and how we approach it. In particular, the issue I want to address is “The Toofer.” *cue lightning strike*

Now this may or not be a phrase that you’ve come across before, but you’ll undoubtedly have either witnessed or actually committed this photocrime yourself. The toofer is when a photographer of whatever category, niche, clique or industry, can’t be bothered to decide between two (or even more) pictures so ends up using both. Before you rush to find examples from me on the AFP site, I can save you the time and declare that yes, I’ve been known to toofer in the past. Recently however, I’ve stopped and I think it’s time we all checked ourselves to make sure we aren’t falling into this bad habit.

You might have read all of this so far and wondered if it really matters. Allow me to explain why it does.

Picture the scene; you’ve just finished a shoot and have started to edit the glorious fruits of your labour. During the shoot, you remember getting a particular angle or moment that just worked so you shot the living hell out of it. That buffer was glowing red hot by the time you finished, and you had chance to finish off your above-room temperature pasty before the data-write light had faded. Now when you’re editing, you find shot after shot that you like but you can’t make your mind up which to release. At this point, it’s so easy to think “if less is more, just think how much more is” and throw the whole lot into the finished mix. This is actually one of the main moments that sets the professionals apart from the amateurs. Why should your client be left to decide which is the best shot? If there’s so little difference between the images to make a choice, there’s no damage in hacking it down to just one, is there?

A simple analogy is to imagine going to a restaurant and asking for something from the menu. When the food arrives, it’s not just one plate but 9 different dishes. The chef is in tow to point out that he was proud of them all but he put marginally different amounts of seasoning in each and couldn’t decide which tasted better. While amusing on the first occasion, you would soon become pretty annoyed that the professional didn’t have the confidence to decide which is the best option. On top of this, tasting nine virtually identical dishes will only serve to dilute the strength of the actual winner. How the hell did I just write a paragraph on chef’s seasonings? I will rely on your discretion and manners to pretend you understand what I’m trying to say.

So next time you’re preparing an edit for your client, picture editor or blog, step up to the plate and make the choices. The internet is full of photographers that churn out countless thousands of images, but for someone to confidently say that a single image is the one that captured it all shows genuine talent.

15 Responses to “Toof Ache”

  1. Leon

    Whilst I agree that a tighter edit always looks better…… Some clients really like to have more choice..Especially for web & paper etc……

    Posted by Peter Macdiarmid
  2. I totally am in agreement with you, my liege. Working as a Picture Editor, I expect my commissioned photographers to select the best of the best from the shoot, so no more than 15-20 images, tops. Going out as a photographer, I have to work with the same mindset and edit all the way down, and even then it’s hard, and thus I end up ‘toofing’.
    Happy belated birthday, though, and I hope SA was a blast. You still need to come down and meet the guys on the desk. :-)

    Posted by pixpilgrim
  3. @Pete – Yeah, clients like choice but I could show you plenty of prime examples of edits from jobs by agency photographers where the differences between frames are so slight that you have to bring them up side-by-side to see any difference. I’m all for choice but flooding the wire with near-identical images doesn’t serve any purpose other than trying to drown out the competition. The toofer comments are also aimed at bloggers out there too though. There’s a vast amount of toofering, threefering and even fourfering goes on there!

    @Akin – The toofer is something that we all fall into doing occasionally. My point is to make sure that it doesn’t become a regular thing from every job. SA was indeed great fun. Top jaunt and, yes, I know. I WILL see you at some point soon!

    Posted by tabascokid
  4. Well said there Leon.
    Yes, of course papers want more, and more and more and more. I think there is more to this point tho, in that do some picture editors really know what is good and what isn’t? The same goes for the people who produce the pictures in the first place… us. :)
    Now, with digital, its become ever more apparent that some really don’t know and when I say some, its more than 60% in my opinion.
    Editing and shooting pictures are two different disciplines, each being as hard as the other to master and with that, only a fraction will ever truly be great. As with being a great photographer, its not something you learn, its something you had in you before you even touched a camera.

    Posted by Prawn
  5. I know exactly where you’re coming from. I suffered from this affliction for many years. The endless flicking between two images on the screen, all the while saying,* “Is it better like this? Or like this?”

    I’m still guilty of it, but when it’s for a client I very rarely give them both.

    I never knew it as a toofer, but it’s nice to stick a name to it and know that my worst cases of too ache are (hopefully) behind me…

    *Done in my best opticians voice, you know, the one that sounds bored, but nice, and also slightly patronising at the same time. It’s the one that occurs during the bit when they flick between two lenses while you have that silly contraption on your face. Usually involves looking at green and blue coloured lights (I think it’s actually an optician’s in-joke and has no relation to how blind/short/long sighted you actually are).

    Posted by Matt
  6. I would have just sent the top one. No toofing required.

    Posted by Clive Rose
  7. Nice piece and I understand what you are saying, I was always advised to never send too many and be careful what you send because if there is one you don’t really like but are sending out of what you feel is an ‘obligation’ then that lame little turkey is the one that will fly in ‘The Linen’. Having said that I draw your attention to the fact I said “always advised”.In reality I have been in the past ordered by my Pic Desk to do exactly the opposite and send everything on the basis that THEY are the editors. In the bygone era of film they would see everything and mark up from contacts what they thought was the best selection. The Photographer never did it for them. As a new breed of editors come through they will never have known that luxury/burden it is in fact a piece of their job that’s been taken away by the digital age. Personally I’m all for that but old habits die hard. Dan Kitwood and I were on the photocall for The Three actresses who were to play ‘Matilda’ in the eponymous Roald Dahl play that won so many awards recently. We’d shot the bejaysus out of it and it had made some pretty nice pix. A photographer shooting for the PR set a corker of a local paper pic up. It was the girls,heads above eachother, peering around the door of the hut that Roald did all his writing in. It was cheesier than a mouse’s christmas list but I felt I had to drop a couple of frames…I just had too. Nobody else shot it and I felt a little embarassed. I showed it to Dan and we joked how if I sent it it would publish and that for the good of photography I really should just delete it. I sent it and we used it on the front. The point I’m making is that the ‘toofer’ rule is slightly different on Newspapers than on agencies. If I’m on a job and don’t send everything that every agency photographer sends then the one permutation that I omit will be the one they use. I would and will continue to send both of your examples above. I know which is better, but I’m not the one deciding which goes in the paper and if I sent the one of him looking up they’d want the one of him looking down.

    Posted by Eddie Mulholland
  8. Great advice Leon. Will be sharing. :)

    Posted by Tom Ashmore
  9. Good points, Ed :)
    Still one more tho ;) One more please, one more please.. Over here please sir, one more please…
    I remember going on jobs plenty of times where we’d hang about right to the end, and beyond to get something different or make sure no one else did. It’s just the nature of our jobs :)

    Posted by Prawn
  10. @Prawn – I agree totally about the discipline aspect. It takes a special touch to be able to confidently make those calls and decide and those who just pump it all in really aren’t doing themselves any favours!

    @Matt – As I said, we’ve all done and I’ve been called on it whenever I’ve been guilty of it!

    @Clive – Obviously, but I had to at least pretend I wasn’t an awesome photographer for a second, didn’t I? ;)

    Eddie – I can understand your point regarding paper photographers vs agency togs in the sense that you’ll naturally feel as though you’re up against much more competition. I guess, in your case, we’d like to imagine that our editors would favour our input and trust our judgement. *cough*

    @Tom – Cheers! Share away. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  11. I think you’re spot on Leon. When I first started as a freelance in 2006, I really couldn’t make my mind up on what to send so sent the lot. I think it comes down to confidence in your ability and confidence in knowing what the client wants and expects. I think the only time to send similar images is for key points in an event. The photographer who shot Peter Crouch’s celebration after his wonder strike springs to mind. As Crouch spun away in delight, the photographer must have filed 4 or 5 different pics, all used differently in the Sunday papers, thus clearing up.

    Posted by Manchester pr photographer
  12. Yeah, if the series actually tells a story and can illustrate the story unfolding, then it will work as a collection. My issue, as I can tell you understand, comes from those who file six pictures of someone with little or no visible difference between any of them. Bloggers are often the worst culprits though with posts that seem to be made up of endless repetitions of the same moment but from a micro-degree of a different angle!

    Posted by tabascokid
  13. I’m not a pro tog by any means but I shoot a few paid jobs, mostly low profile, local events and usually end up handing over the entire content of the memory cards dumped onto a dvd (after weeding out the dross and a touch of editing etc). They’re not looking for ‘that shot’, but simply a record of the day. On the few occasions where I’ve done more personal work like portrait work, presenting too many images sometimes baffles the hell out of them and they almost reject them all because of information overload. On the last two jobs I presented no more than a dozen and they had no trouble picking the one’s they liked without much angst or hesitation. “Less is more”, “Wood for the trees” are phrases that come to mind.. It works (so far anyway).

    Posted by Tim
  14. Are the brace of photos at the top being used to illustrate an example of a toofer, Leon?

    I ask because I see two images of sufficient distinction as to be able to support/represent two different story slants [or spins, agendas, angles… whatever the industry parlance is].

    For argument’s sake, let’s say that the top image would be suitable for a generic announcement/press release type article, “Abhishek Bachchan, seen here at the UK launch of his new film, ‘Players’, in which he stars as the cool hero blah blah blah”.

    You probably wouldn’t expect to see the bottom image accompanying that story… but if the intended article’s slant was “Hey look, reader: Abhishek Bachchan, star of new film ‘Players’, is actually just the same as you, all human and fallible, what with his constant phone-checking and everything” then suddenly the bottom image becomes the more appropriate choice.

    How would you know this, as a photographer?

    Is it not the case that the photographer is in a less-informed position than the editor when it comes to deciding which shots to reject? Or am I wrong: do press photographers get briefed in advance as to what the story slant is going to be?

    Apologies for any naivety-fuelled devil’s advocacy here; as a graphic designer I know all too well the importance of not giving your client a choice… but I suspect that the designer-client relationship differs from that of the press photographer and their client. They’re not asking you to come up with the single best solution[image], they’re asking you to gather and provide assets so that *they* can pick the single best solution[image]. Or am I wrong in at least one way? Have I grabbed the wrong end of the stick? Am I mercilessly over-analysing what was intended to be a light-hearted fluff piece? :D

    Posted by simisker
  15. @Simisker – Hey Rich, While I’m more than capable of producing toofers, including a fine example the day after I published this post, (Thanks for pointing that out, Dan…) this was the best I could find when I was putting the post together. I’ve noticed some really bad examples from other photographers and bloggers but am far too polite to have included them here! ;)

    If a picture has a clear differences in mood, character or shape, then it’s certainly great to put them out as it does indeed offer choice. The problem comes from those who shoot five images of someone walking out of a door, edit five pictures of someone walking out of a door and publish five pictures of someone walking out of a door. If there’s so little difference between the images that the viewer has to say “Ah, his foot is slightly closer to the ground in that frame and is touching the floor by the third frame” then you aren’t providing choice, merely visual noise to clog up the wire.

    It almost feels like some photographers are so happy to get a sharp, well-exposed set of pictures that they immediately feel that they all automatically qualify as great images. In the world of photo agencies, it often feels as though some adopt the attitude of drowning out the opposition than actually providing quality. After all, if they put out 300 images from a job while a rival only puts out 25, what are the odds of the rivals images being spotted among the flood that hits the wire? If this mentality continues to a theoretical conclusion, everyone will just file every frame they take from a job and they’ll all end up on the wire. Where’s the quality control? Where’s the skill?

    While I don’t blame the photographer or the agency for putting out a large selection of images, if you have to bring up a series of images into a browser to look for minute differences, there’s a problem.

    In the blogging world, the issue comes from being too closely attached to your production. Unlike the world of press or PR photography, you aren’t providing the images to an editor or client so have no-one to tell you what to ditch. Self-control should leap into action at this point so that you can really illustrate your abilities in a defining image, not uploading every frame that was in focus.

    Coming from your area of graphic design, many of these issues won’t apply as you’ll be buying from stock libraries that are a world unto themselves. As I hope this tries to explain, I’m only dealing with world that I work in! :)

    Hope all’s well, bud!

    Posted by Leon Neal

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